Valentine’s Day is not a new theme for 30 Rock. In fact, when Liz started cycling through flashbacks of her previous V-Day disasters, it seemed for a minute like we might be in for a clip show. But instead of going back over old ground, the writers took things in an entirely different direction, creating what has to be TV’s first-ever ode to the romance-destroying powers of the Red Hook Ikea.
All Ikeas are bad for romance, but that particular Brooklyn location is a Bermuda Triangle. The jokes felt dead-on — Tracy and Lamar Odom’s dad used to pick up girls there back when it was a marsh where people would go to shoot fish — but also awfully niche. Granted, I’ve personally come close to divorce in that space (my husband yelled “Noooo!” when it appeared on screen) but what about those people in the audience who live outside the greater New York metropolitan area? This is one reason Everybody Loves Raymond will always do better in the ratings, mother-in-law jokes and all.
Of course, the mother-in-law jokes on other sitcoms generally don’t revolve around sexual tension with Mary Steenburgen. Fresh off romancing her real-life husband Ted Danson in Bored to Death, Steenburgen appears here as Diana, Avery Jessup’s mom. Initially, Jack thinks Diana is a cold fish. The Jessup family immigrated to America in 1760 to avoid an embarrassing re-gifting incident, and they’ve been avoiding conflict ever since. (Well, all of them but Diana’s grandfather, the inspiration for Yosemite Sam.)
But Jack is also in a particularly vulnerable place right now. It’s been so long since he had what Liz refers to as “mommy-daddy-sheet-monster times” that he’s developing strange feelings for the nipple-y gray mannequins at the sporting goods store. So when Diana tells him she made an appointment with the Transylvanian ambassador at the UN, he’s willing to come along, even though he’s skeptical.
Sure enough, the ambassador is useless. His waiting room is stocked with — sigh — soccer magazines (Jack reads one called Kickenfun!) and he introduces himself by announcing, “I am from Transylvania but I am not a vampire. I am just a night owl with a terrible garlic allergy.” Not only is he incapable of getting Kim Jong-un on the phone, but the operator won’t even let him make a long-distance call. Diana gets so frustrated that she loses her WASP reserve and starts yelling, while Jack pulls out the ultimate threat: If Avery isn’t returned, he’ll make it so that nobody in Transylvania will ever see another episode of Friends.
With emotions running high, Diana and Jack both realize that they’re powerfully attracted to each other. It’s nice to see Jack do something other than micro-manage Liz, but obviously starting a romance with his kidnapped wife’s mother is not the world’s wisest move. He and Diana spend the rest of the episode fighting their feelings, ultimately working out the tension between them by hitting golf balls.
Liz Lemon begins her Valentine’s Day with her hand still stuck in a potato chip can from the night before. Turns out that Happy Relationship Liz is not any more interested in the holiday than Single Liz; she still just wants to celebrate League of Women’s Voters Day. But Criss is excited about making romantic plans, and Liz feels like they might as well do things right. That means dinner on a real dining room table, so it’s time for a trip to Ikea, the furniture store where functional relationships go to die.
Sure enough, they barely make it to Red Hook before the fighting begins. Criss thinks the table Liz picked out is too uptight. Liz says maybe the table should be more supportive. When it turns out that tables are sold out anyway, Liz yells at Criss for never being able to follow through with anything. “Ikea tested us,” she announces, “and we failed.”
While Jack and Liz are working out their romantic issues, the other members of the TGS cast and crew are ignoring their significant others entirely. Tracy and Frank have decided to pool their collective knowledge to get Lutz laid. “Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to meet vulnerable women,” explains Frank. “It’s scumbag Christmas!” All Lutz has to is hang out in a place that makes women feel insecure, like a Weight Watchers meeting, a salon where white women do black women’s hair, or a swimwear store. Somehow, Lutz manages to strike out at every single location, though he does get talked into buying a lovely purple one-piece at the swim shop.
Jenna is planning to spend her Valentine’s Day serenading an audience of anti-fans at America’s Kidz Got Singing. The stakes are high to begin with, since the nation has hated her ever since she started yelling “Go jump back up your mother” at toddlers during prime time. And they’re raised even more when her producer ODs at Guy Fieri’s house. Pete has no plans for the night, since his wife is having dinner with her tennis instructor, so he volunteers to fill in.
It’s a good thing he’s there, because Jenna has the yips; like a psyched-out athlete, she chokes every time she tries to perform. Pete can relate, as the yips are what kept him from becoming an Olympic archer, but he doesn’t know how to help until he realizes Jenna works best when she’s in pain. In a desperate last-minute move, he grabs a bow and arrow from a cupid statue and shoots her in the arm right before she takes the stage—and she sings beautifully, even though she’s bleeding.
Back at Ikea, Liz runs into Lutz, who’s trying to pick up sad women. Realizing that she doesn’t want to end up like him, she runs back uptown to apologize to Criss. (For this, the writers apparently invoked the Gossip Girl Tesseract, a sci-fi principle in which the fabric of New York City’s space-time folds up so that characters can get from Brooklyn to uptown Manhattan in 15 minutes or less.) She finds him busy making her dinner; he missed all of her calls because his ringtone is the sounds of cooking. And he doesn’t even think they broke up: “You can get mad at dumb stuff. That’s your thing.” What a guy. Also, he made a table out of wood from Riverside Park and a Herman Cain poster he found. Can Liz please just marry him?
As for Hazel (Kristen Schaal), she’s still around but rapidly feeling disillusioned. She used to manage a haunted house upstate, but the industry is a boy’s club, so now she’s in NYC, sleeping at a 24-Hour Fitness and living the dream. Trouble is, the dream involves Jenna forcing mystery pills down her throat and Tracy’s lizard trying to mate with her face. Kenneth thinks she’s not living up to the standards of the page program mascot, Pagey, a piece of paper. But Hazel can’t get inspired until she delivers a package to Liz’s house, where she’s wildly impressed with Liz’s lifestyle. “Mashed potatoes in a martini glass? Who are you, the President? Of France?”
No two minutes of the hour-long episode were funnier, though, than the two minutes dominated by Dr. Spacemen, who appears halfway through to try to diagnose Jenna’s problem. “You know,” he tells Jenna after examining her mouth, “if those teeth were in your vagina, you’d be considered a monster.” Dr. Spacemen never lets us down.